UCF Physics

Category Archives: 2009

Goldman Lecture Series – Extra Dimensions on YouTube

Date: Thursday Dec. 10th, 2009

You can view the lecture from here!

Spring 2010 Course Innovation Project: Sustainability

Date: Tuesday Dec. 01st, 2009

Spring 2010 Course Innovation Project: Sustainability

Submission deadline: Friday, December 18, 2009

The Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning is calling for the submission of proposals by UCF full-time faculty members who wish to modify a course with UCF’s Unifying Theme of sustainability, the environment, and global climate change.

Faculty will participate in three workshops (6 contact hours) and receive support from staff in units appropriate for their project as they develop new approaches and materials for their classes. The workshops will include a series of hands-on experiences designed to explore teaching techniques and learning activities that have proven to be effective. Faculty participants will receive a $300 grant by completing the following:

  1. attend all three workshops
  2. produce at least one complete learning module which will include
    1. student learning outcomes,
    2. description of teaching strategies,
    3. student assessments, and
    4. relevant resources
  3. implement the module during the spring semester,
  4. collect assessment on student learning during that module, and
  5. share the results at the third meeting.

You may choose either a Wednesday morning or a Thursday afternoon schedule. Meeting times:

Wednesday Schedule

Wednesday Jan 20, 9:00-11:00 am

Wednesday Feb 10, 9:00-11:00 am

Wednesday April 14, 9:00-11:00 am

Thursday Schedule

Thursday, Jan 21, 2:00-4:00

Thursday, Feb 11, 2:00-4:00

Thursday, April 15, 2:00-4:00

Proposal Submission

Provide a summary of the project you intend to undertake with sustainability. What motivates your interest? What problem statement does this course transformation address? How will the student learning experience be enhanced or improved? (max. 65 words)

Include your name, email address, and department with your application. You may email your proposal tofctl@mail.ucf.edu or fax it to 407-823-2355. Proposals are due by December 18, 2009.

Roldan Cuenya Recognized at International Exhibition

Date: Monday Nov. 30th, 2009

Beatriz Roldan Cuenya, an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics with joint appointments at UCFs NanoScience Technology Center and the Department of Environmental Engineering, has received the 2009 Peter Mark Memorial Award.

The presentation was made last week at the annual international symposium and exhibition of the American Vacuum Society (AVS) in San Jose, CA.   The award is presented to a young scientist or engineer (35 years of age or under) for outstanding theoretical or experimental work, at least some of which must have been published in the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology (JVST.)

Cuenya was recognized specifically for pioneering contributions to the understanding of processes taking place in metal nanocluster-catalyzed chemical reactions.

The award was established in 1979 in memory of Dr. Peter Mark who served as editor of the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology from 1975 to 1979. The award consists of a cash award, a certificate, and an honorary lectureship at a regular session of the International Symposium.

During her academic career Beatriz received an early CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (2005). She is the author of 31 peer-reviewed publications and three book chapters and has given more than 35 invited talks at international and national conferences and universities. She is also actively involved in high-school outreach activities providing research opportunities to local K-12 students. Within the AVS she is serving as associate editor of the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology B and has taught an AVS-sponsored short course on nanophysics.

Doing the Math to Find the Good Jobs

Date: Monday Nov. 30th, 2009

Mathematicians Land Top Spot in New Ranking of Best and Worst Occupations in the U.S.

Nineteen years ago, Jennifer Courter set out on a career path that has since provided her with a steady stream of lucrative, low-stress jobs. Now, her occupation — mathematician — has landed at the top spot on a new study ranking the best and worst jobs in the U.S.

“It’s a lot more than just some boring subject that everybody has to take in school,” says Ms. Courter, a research mathematician at mental images Inc., a maker of 3D-visualization software in San Francisco. “It’s the science of problem-solving.”

The study, released Tuesday from CareerCast.com, a new job site, evaluates 200 professions to determine the best and worst according to five criteria inherent to every job: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress. (CareerCast.com is published by Adicio Inc., in which Wall Street Journal owner News Corp. holds a minority stake.)

The findings were compiled by Les Krantz, author of “Jobs Rated Almanac,” and are based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, as well as studies from trade associations and Mr. Krantz’s own expertise.

According to the study, mathematicians fared best in part because they typically work in favorable conditions — indoors and in places free of toxic fumes or noise — unlike those toward the bottom of the list like sewage-plant operator, painter and bricklayer. They also aren’t expected to do any heavy lifting, crawling or crouching — attributes associated with occupations such as firefighter, auto mechanic and plumber.

The study also considers pay, which was determined by measuring each job’s median income and growth potential. Mathematicians’ annual income was pegged at $94,160, but Ms. Courter, 38, says her salary exceeds that amount.

Her job entails working as part of a virtual team that designs mathematically based computer programs, some of which have been used to make films such as “The Matrix” and “Speed Racer.” She telecommutes from her home and rarely works overtime or feels stressed out. “Problem-solving involves a lot of thinking,” says Ms. Courter. “I find that calming.”

Other jobs at the top of the study’s list include actuary, statistician, biologist, software engineer and computer-systems analyst, historian and sociologist.

Mark Nord is a sociologist working for the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service in Washington, D.C. He studies hunger in American households and writes research reports about his findings. “The best part of the job is the sense that I’m making some contribution to good policy making,” he says. “The kind of stuff that I crank out gets picked up by advocacy organizations, media and policy officials.”

The study estimates sociologists earn $63,195, though Mr. Nord, 62, says his income is about double that amount. He says he isn’t surprised by the findings because his job generates little stress and he works a steady 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule. “It’s all done at the computer at my desk,” he says. “The main occupational hazard is carpal tunnel syndrome.”

On the opposite end of the career spectrum are lumberjacks. The study shows these workers, also known as timber cutters and loggers, as having the worst occupation, because of the dangerous nature of their work, a poor employment outlook and low annual pay — just $32,124.

New protective gear — such as trouser covers made of fiber-reinforcement materials — and an increased emphasis on safety have helped to reduce injuries among lumberjacks, says Paul Branch, who manages the timber department at Pike Lumber Co. in Akron, Ind. Still, accidents do occur from time to time, and some even result in death. “It’s not a job everybody can do,” says Mr. Branch.

But Eric Nellans, who has been cutting timber for the past 11 years for Pike Lumber, is passionate about his profession. “It’s a very rewarding job, especially at the end of the day when you see the work you accomplished,” he says. Mr. Nellans, 35, didn’t become discouraged even after he accidentally knocked down a dead tree and broke his right leg in the process four years ago. “I was back in the woods cutting timber in five weeks,” he says.

Other jobs at the bottom of the study: dairy farmer, taxi driver, seaman, emergency medical technician and roofer.

Mike Riegel, a 43-year-old roofer in Flemington, N.J., says he likes working “outside in the fresh air.” Since he runs his own business, which he inherited from his father, he can start and end his day early in hot weather or do the opposite when it’s cold.

The study estimates roofers earn annual incomes of $34,164, which Mr. Riegel says is consistent with what he pays new employees. Roofers also ranked poorly because of their hazardous working conditions. “You obviously can’t be afraid of heights,” says Mr. Riegel, who once fell two stories while working on a rooftop in the rain but luckily landed safely on a pile of soft dirt. “I missed some cement by 10 feet.”

The Best and Worst Jobs

Of 200 Jobs studied, these came out on top — and at the bottom:

The Best The Worst
1. Mathematician 200. Lumberjack
2. Actuary 199. Dairy Farmer
3. Statistician 198. Taxi Driver
4. Biologist 197. Seaman
5. Software Engineer 196. EMT
6. Computer Systems Analyst 195. Roofer
7. Historian 194. Garbage Collector
8. Sociologist 193. Welder
9. Industrial Designer 192. Roustabout
10. Accountant 191. Ironworker
11. Economist 190. Construction Worker
12. Philosopher 189. Mail Carrier
13. Physicist 188. Sheet Metal Worker
14. Parole Officer 187. Auto Mechanic
15. Meteorologist 186. Butcher
16. Medical Laboratory Technician 185. Nuclear Decontamination Tech
17. Paralegal Assistant 184. Nurse (LN)
18. Computer Programmer 183. Painter
19. Motion Picture Editor 182. Child Care Worker
20. Astronomer 181. Firefighter

Unifying Theme Writing Competition

Date: Tuesday Nov. 24th, 2009

Our Planet. Our Education. Our Future.

Submissions are due Monday, February 22, 2010 at 5:00 pm.


The Unifying Theme Writing Competition is open to all current UCF undergraduate students. This year’s theme, “The Environment and Global Climate Change: Our Planet. Our Education. Our Future.” asks entrants to consider the ways in which environmental issues intersect with education and the future of the planet. Compositions should address current issue(s) relating to the environment and global climate change, as well as potential solutions. Consider how you as an individual and/or how the nations of the world can improve the current state of our planet’s environmental health.

Work will be judged for its scholarly and/or creative interpretation of the theme. The competition is open to students in all fields, and submissions can reflect research-based, non-fiction, and/or creative perspectives, including scientific studies, essays, poetry, and short stories. All compositions are limited to a maximum of 1,500 words. Students may submit one work only.

Submissions will be judged by a faculty panel based on relevance to the theme, “The Environment and Global Climate Change: Our Planet. Our Education. Our Future.” and on the quality of the composition. All submissions must be original work.

Submissions are due Monday, February 22, 2010 at 5:00 pm. Submissions must be sent via email tous@mail.ucf.edu and should include: your name, PID and class standing (e.g., freshman, sophomore, etc.). By submitting your composition, you acknowledge that your work may be posted to the Unifying Theme website.

The UCF Planetary Sciences Group

Date: Tuesday Nov. 24th, 2009

Have you ever been interested in how our solar system formed? What would happened if a planet was hit by a comet? Are we alone in the universe?

The UCF Planetary Sciences group uses NASA probes, powerful telescopes, and supercomputers to investigate these questions. Over the next few years the UCF Planetary Sciences group plans to expand their group. If you are an undergraduate interested in research about these questions, contact Dr. Humberto Campins at campins@physics.ucf.edu.

For more information about this group and links to research, visit their website athttp://physics.ucf.edu/planetary.

UCF Winter Workshop 2010: Exoplanets for Planetary Scientists

Date: Tuesday Nov. 24th, 2009

A cross-disciplinary scientific workshop for exoplanetaryresearchers and students from both the stellar and planetary communities, this workshop features introductory reviews, regular oral and poster sessions with the latest research results, and plenty of scheduled time for interaction and collaboration.


2009-11-20 We are still accepting abstracts!

2009-11-16 Ball Aerospace is generously sponsoring the Winter Workshop, and will be sending several participants.  Thanks!  We are still accepting sponsorships to fund our travel grant program, and more invited speakers.

2009-10-17 Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, to speak on “What is a Planet?”

2009-10-17 Abstract deadline extended to 31 October 2009

2009-10-17 Name changed to “Winter Workshop” (“Winter School” was confusing people; this is for everyone, not just students).

2009-10-07 Eric Gaidos, U. Hawaii Geo. Dept., to lead terrestrial planets session

2009-09-18 Registration and abstract submission are open!

2009-09-17 Accomodationstransportation, and travel grant information added, much information updated.  Registration to open shortly.

2009-06      Venue selected.

Time and place:

Live Oak Room
Ferrell Commons
University of Central Florida Campus
Orlando, Florida
6-8 January 2010

Date Item
 Still acceptng abstracts  Abstract Deadline – now extended
through 31 October Early Bird Registration at $225
 through 18 November $30 cancellation fee
 through 20 December Regular Registration at $275
 after 20 December Late (onsite) registration at $300
 through  1 January 50% cancellation fee (no refund after 1 January)


The dominant flux source in exoplanetary observations is not a planet but a star.  Exoplanetary science thus combines planetary theory with stellar techniques and instrumentation.  Researchers come from either planetary or stellar backgrounds, but need to understand both areas to become fully effective.  This cross-disciplinary meeting is an opportunity to present results to a broad audience of both planetary and stellar researchers, to network and collaborate between the two communities, and to begin learning the topics outside your background. There are three planetary theory sessions and three stellar observational sessions, each starting with a graduate-level introductory review by a recognized community leader.  The invited oral and contributed poster sessions showcase the latest results.  The scheduled interaction time lets students mingle with potential mentors, gives distant collaborators a chance to meet and work together, and helps everyone broaden their knowledge and network of contacts in both communities.  Are you…

  • an exoplanet researcher looking for a broad audience?
  • a student working on (or looking for) a thesis in exoplanets?
  • a project leader seeking students or collaborators?
  • a planetary scientist ready to dive into exoplanets?
  • a planet hunter needing to learn planetary physics?

Then join us for this warm Winter Workshop.

Registration is open.   This web site will always have the latest general information.  Email special inquiries towinterworkshop@physics.ucf.edu.

We hope to see you in January!

Joe Harrington, Program Chair
Csaba Palotai, Local Arrangements Chair
…and the entire UCF Planetary Sciences Group

Suborbital science goes public

Date: Tuesday Nov. 24th, 2009

Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos’ usually secretive Blue Origin rocket venture raised the curtain today on three research experiments that are slated to take suborbital journeys on its prototype spaceship in two years’ time.

For years, Blue Origin has been working on a vertical-launched rocket that could someday take passengers on an automated trip beyond 62 miles (100 kilometers) in altitude. That’s beyond the boundary of outer space – at a height where passengers could see the blue, curving Earth beneath the blackness of space, and experience a few minutes of weightlessness.

Blue Origin’s engineers have flown their New Shepard prototype craft through several low-altitude tests at Bezos’ hush-hush launch facility near Van Horn, Texas. But details about any of the tests beyond the first one have been hard to come by.

For the past year, the venture has been working with planetary scientist (and former NASA science official) Alan Stern on a plan to put experimental packages on New Shepard, even before people fly on it. Stern has touted suborbital research as a “killer app” for private-sector spacecraft, and he is organizing a seminar in February to help get the ball rolling.

Today’s announcement is notable not just because it represents a rare update from Blue Origin, but also because it marks a step forward for suborbital science. “This is the first time that a next-gen suborbital company has selected payloads to fly in space,” Stern told me.

The three experiments are:

  • “Three-Dimensional Critical Wetting Experiment in Microgravity.” Principal investigator: Stephen Collicott of Purdue University. Collicott’s research focuses on how fluids behave in zero-gravity environments. Such studies are crucial for propulsion system design.
  • “Microgravity Experiment on Dust Environments in Astrophysics” (MEDEA). Principal investigator: Joshua Colwell, of the University of Central Florida. As described in this UCF news release, Colwell’s experiment is aimed at shedding light on the process by which space dust builds up to form planets, or the rings around those planets.
  • “Effective lnterfacial Tension lnduced Convection” (EITIC). Principal investigator: John Pojman, of Louisiana State University. Pojman concentrates on the interaction of fluids in zero-G. In August, he chatted with me about his research and how tough it can be to get experiments into space.

Blue Origin has said that the first experiments could fly during New Shepard’s unmanned testing phase in 2011, and that experiments requiring human tending could be taken up starting in 2012. That schedule is still operative, but it’s too early to be more specific about the launch timing, Stern told me.

No money would be exchanged for flying these experiments. Stern said the researchers would provide the apparatus in containers ranging up to the size of a small chest of drawers (technically speaking, the equivalent of one to three shuttle middeck lockers). Blue Origin would provide the ride as a demonstration of its vehicle’s research capability.

Blue Origin isn’t alone in the suborbital research market. For example, Collicott is working with Texas-basedArmadillo Aerospace to fly a shoebox-sized fluid-mechanics experimentVirgin GalacticMasten Space Systems and XCOR Aerospace say they’re also planning to send research packages into space.

Researchers hope that private-sector spaceships will provide more opportunities for sending experiments into zero-G. Space entrepreneurs, meanwhile, hope the research market will provide more of a market for their shiny new rocket ships. But will it work out that way? Blue Origin’s announcement demonstrates once again that the two-year rule of commercial spaceflight is still in effect. When will the rule be broken?

UCF Space Experiment to Fly on New Rocket Ship

Date: Tuesday Nov. 24th, 2009

A UCF physics experiment that could help explain the birth of the solar system has been selected to fly aboard a new generation of rocket ship.

The experiment, which will gather data and test theories on the formation of planets, will fly aboard New Shepard. Blue Origin, which is developing the next-generation vehicle, is among several companies seeking commercial flight opportunities as NASA prepares to retire the space shuttle and develops its replacement.

“Flights into space are limited,” said University of Central Florida Associate Professor Joshua Colwell. “This is an excellent opportunity to gather additional data that can only be obtained from these kinds of flights and which is essential for our research to move forward.”

Colwell’s experiment is one of three selected for the test flight, which is scheduled to fly early during the test flight stage of New Shepard. The new spacecraft is designed to routinely fly multiple civilian astronauts into suborbital space.

“I am excited that Blue Origin is able to offer these research opportunities so early in the vehicle’s test program,” said Alan Stern formerly the head of all science missions at NASA headquarters. He is serving as a science mission consultant for Blue Origin.

Colwell and his team, which includes partners at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas and the University of  Braunschweig in Germany plan to use New Shepard’s microgravity environment to study early formation of planets, focusing on collisions and interactions of dust particles in freefall. These observations will help fill in some of the gaps in knowledge of the early stages of the formation of solar systems, when clouds of loose dust began to aggregate into protoplanetary bodies.

The microgravity environment aboard the New Shepard vehicle allows the team to study multiple collisions among free-flying dust particles at slow speeds. These collisions are impossible to perform in Earth laboratories due to the effects of gravity. The results of the experiment also will help scientists better interpret images gathered by spacecraft of surfaces of asteroids, which also have weak gravity.

Colwell joined UCF’s Planetary Sciences Group in the Physics Department in December 2006. He is no stranger to conducting experiments aboard spacecraft. He was the lead researcher on the COLLIDE and COLLIDE-2 microgravity-impact experiments for the space shuttle program and for the PRIME microgravity-impact experiment aboard NASA’s KC-135 parabolic aircraft. He also is a researcher on the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph aboard he Cassini mission to Saturn.

U. of Central Florida Professor Helps Launch New Space-Travel Industry

Date: Monday Nov. 16th, 2009

By Paul Basken

More than 40 years after man first set foot on the moon, space travel remains for its many fans a lifelong dream that is rarely realized.

Joshua E. Colwell, an associate professor of planetary science at the University of Central Florida, is about to help change that.

In the past three months, Mr. Colwell and a few other university scientists have begun working with a group of small companies that are close to launching a new generation of privately built spacecraft that would let human passengers routinely travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere to the beginning of outer space.

The companies bear such names as Space Adventures, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Orbital Outfitters. They expect their flights, at about $200,000 a ticket, to cater mostly to wealthy tourists, at least at first.

“This isn’t pie in the sky,” Mr. Colwell, who is 45, says with the enthusiasm of one who grew up near the space center in Florida just as NASA was firing off its moon missions. “It actually exists.”

Or, at least, it’s close to existing. Five years ago, the privately financed SpaceShipOne claimed the $10-million Ansari X Prize by completing two manned flights into low Earth orbit. Hopes were high that companies might soon build a series of such spacecraft.

But they met technical and financial hurdles. Three workers died in a July 2007 explosion while testing propellants for SpaceShipTwo, a successor vehicle backed by Virgin Galactic. NASA hasn’t yet made clear whether or how it plans to use private-sector launch capabilities. And the global recession has made raising money difficult.

That’s where Mr. Colwell comes in. In August he was one of 10 experts, mostly from research universities, chosen by the companies to advise them on ways their space vehicles—the first of which are expected to be launched within two years—could be used for research and educational purposes.

The panel of experts represents various academic disciplines, including space life sciences, atmospheric sciences, and aerospace engineering.

Mr. Colwell’s specialty is microgravity physics, with an emphasis on the forces present at the early stages of planetary formation. Many of his colleagues in the field are using low-gravitational-force environments to improve the design and production of vaccines, pharmaceuticals, and materials ranging from tiny electronics to jet-engine turbines.

For such researchers, riding on a new space rocket in low Earth orbit could mean a lot, both professionally and personally. Right now, when Mr. Colwell wants to test how particles behave with little or no gravitational force, his options aren’t good.

One choice is to prepare a boxed experiment to take aboard the space shuttle or space station. But those opportunities are rare and expensive, and he can’t come along to oversee the study.

Another is to fly on a specially equipped research aircraft, such as NASA’s Houston-based C-9B jet, which flies up and down in a series of sweeping parabolic paths to give its passengers a simulated weightless environment on each downward plummet.

But the C-9B’s gravity-free plunges last only about 25 seconds at a time. Worse, it is known as the “vomit comet.” Mr. Colwell has spent a lot of time on the C-9B, and says “it lived up to its nickname as far as I was concerned.”.

On the planned private spacecraft, however, researchers can expect as much as five uninterrupted minutes of low gravitational force as the vehicles briefly reach the edge of Earth’s atmosphere before heading back.

And the researchers and their sponsors may not need to buy a full-price ticket, if they only need a small compartment for their experiment to travel as cargo, Mr. Colwell said. Some projects needing only minor or unskilled human interaction might make use of a cooperative passenger, he said.

Accommodating such educational and scientific needs is now a key element “of any private company’s business plan,” said John W. Gedmark, executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, the fledgling industry’s lobby group.

Mr. Colwell and his fellow members of the advisory committee, formed by the spaceflight federation, “are now in discussions with universities, government agencies, and other institutions to use these new capabilities in a big way,” Mr. Gedmark said.

It’s a fun sales job for Mr. Colwell, a fan of Star Trek and science-fiction books, who traces his interest in space to the time his mom went to see an Apollo launch while pregnant with him.

The expected availability of such flights has “come up very quickly, and a lot of people don’t know about it,” Mr. Colwell said. “What we’re saying is, ‘Hey, here’s a great opportunity for doing a new form of science.’”